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Dear Davidson

Davidson is a certified professional trainer, business coach and management consultant.

Driven by passion, he is an engaging and versatile presenter with over 20 years of experience in the training industry. Over the course of his career, he has trained over 1,000 companies comprising start-ups, SMEs, MNCs, government agencies and others all over Southeast Asia.

Here is your change to ask him a Question or read some of the advice given to others.

Is It Okay To Say No?

Dear Davidson,

how do I tell my boss ‘No’?

I am known as a ‘Yes Man’ in my office. In fact, I almost always say ‘Yes’ to new projects assigned by my higher ups.

However, the reality is that I am taking on more than I can chew. Help!

– Mr Brightside

Dear Mr Brightside,

it seems that either you are underestimating yourself, and your higher-ups are just trying to use your potential, or you are really burning out and your managers are using you because, as you said, you are known as a ‘Yes Man’.

In any case, we all need to know how and when to say ‘no’. Learning to say ‘no’ is not a sign of weakness, it’s about rationalising your time and effort, and having self-respect.

Once you understand the request and decide you want to say ‘no’, choose the kind of ‘no’ that best suits the person and situation.

Below are some general rules to follow:

1. Say ‘no’ firmly and calmly, without saying “I’m sorry” (which weakens your position).

2. Say ‘no’ followed by a straightforward explanation of what you are feeling or what you are willing to do (“I’m uncomfortable doing that.”)

3. Say ‘no’ and then give a choice or alternative (“I can’t help you now, but I will when I get this done, which could be in an hour.”)

4. Say ‘no’ and then clarify your reasons. This does not include long-winded statements filled with excuses, justifications and rationalisations. It’s enough that you do not want to say ‘yes’. Your clarification is given to provide the receiver with more information so they better understand your position.

5. Say ‘yes’, and then give your reasons for not doing it or your alternative solution. This approach is very interesting. You may want to use it in situations when you are willing to meet the request, but not at the time or in the way the other person wants it.

For example:

“Yes, I would be willing to work on this project, but I won’t have time until tomorrow afternoon, because I’m dealing with the current tasks you gave me earlier…”


“Yes, I could take part in this project, but I would need someone else to work on specific parts of it together.”


“Yes, I’d be willing to go along with your second alternative, but not the third one you suggested”.

To sum up, say your statement firmly, calmly, and as unemotionally as possible.

Be aware of your non-verbal behaviour, making sure you are coming across as neither passive nor aggressive. Use plenty of silence to your advantage: your silence will project the message that the other’s statements and manipulation are futile.

Be persistent: simply state your response one more time than the other person makes their request, question, or statement. If the other person makes six statements, you make seven. If the other person makes three statements, you make four.

Most often, the other person will feel ill at ease and stop after three or four statements. Other times, your response will move the other person to offer options you are willing to go along with.

Good luck with your bosses and thanks for reading,

– Davidson

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